SpaceX just released a spectacular photo series documenting its historic SES-10 launch on March 30. Elon Musk’s ambitious project employed the first stage (the lowest engine and propellant) of a rocket for a second time: in April 2016 the Falcon 9 sent cargo to the International Space Station, and this time it put a satellite into orbit that will service Central and South America.
The event marked the first time that an orbital class rocket had ever been reused. It raised hopes that recycling rockets could someday become routine, which would be great for sustainability and also dramatically lower the cost of space launches.
SpaceX shared 14 photos from the launch on Flickr, and they’re jaw-dropping.
Contrary to popular belief, white clouds emanating from launching rockets (check them out in the third photo) aren’t smoke, but steam. Rockets store millions of gallons of water that evaporate upon takeoff and help prevent flames from spreading. The water also muffles sound waves that would otherwise be strong enough to break pipes and walls within the craft. With the water, the noise of the launch is reduced to around 180 decibels, which is still 50 decibels more than a jet plane flying at 100 feet and 60 decibels more than an amplified rock concert.
There’s exhaust smoke, too — you can see it really well in the second photo — but those thick white billows are all steam.
The SpaceX launch, in addition to being momentous and extremely important, was also pretty darn picturesque.